Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hotelier and Art Investment Guru Kapil Chopra to Open Gallery at Lado Sarai's Art Mile

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

KAPIL CHOPRA, President, The Oberoi Group, who heads the luxury hotel chain's operations in India, is all set to open artdistrict XIII. It is the newest gallery on the 'art mile' in the gentrified south-west Delhi village of Lado Sarai and, as you'd expect a venture by Chopra to do, it will open with a solo show by the talented Australian artist, Paul Davies, who gives houses a distinctive personality
Kapil Chopra, seen with Yubvan Bothisathuvar,
winner of the Emerging Artist of the Year Award
2013, is opening artdistict XIII at the gentrified
south-west Delhi village, Lado Sarai. Image:
Courtesy of BestCollegeArt.com blog
in his paintings.
"The number 13 signifies my desire to overturn the notion that it is unlucky. After all, we are opening at a time galleries we know are closing," Chopra said to me in a phone interview. "I know it's not unlucky. My daughter's birth date is the 13th and she's the dearest person in my life," he added.
The gallery, though, is being launched on April 12 (it's Baisakhi eve) in a neighbourhood studded with serious players in the art business, notably, Latitude 28, Gallery Threshold, Art Motif and Studio 320. "It is going to be a cutting-edge gallery, but in the not-for-profit space," Chopra said, explaining his vision for the gallery. "Whatever we earn, we will invest back into art and developing institutions."
I have known Chopra in his many avatars, from the days when he was the front office manager of the late lamented Grand Hyatt at Vasant Kunj, and admired his enthralling rise and brilliant time management skills. A product of the Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development (OCLD), without doubt the finest learning institution in the hospitality sector, Chopra first attracted notice when he spearheaded the Presidential Suite project at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mansingh Road, when Abhijit Mukherji was the general manager (he's now Executive Director, Hotel Operations,  of the Taj Group).
Kapil then charted out a new path for Gurgaon, which had just one weather-beaten hotel in 2004, by opening The Trident and went on to give shape to the daring vision of East India Hotels Chairman and Chief Executive, Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, by building The Oberoi next door, creating a luxury enclave and winning just about any award that was to be won. His rise to the top was a foregone conclusion, but he surprised all of us five or six years ago by revealing a different side of his -- that of the art connoisseur.
Hoteliers, as far as I can tell, see art as mere real estate for walls. Very few of them are as passionate about art and the business of promoting young artists as Jyotsna Suri of The Lalit and Priya Paul of The Park. In 2008, Chopra launched his blog, Indian Art Review (http://indianartinvest.blogspot.com), and instantly drew the world's attention to his acute understanding of the business of art. He would bet, for instance, on the edgy duo, Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, much before they became international stars. He would predict the highs and lows of the art market much before the world would get wiser about the trends.
I still remember reading his brilliant analysis of how India's contemporary art market, which was then in a state of euphoria over the emerging stars led by the powerhouse Subodh Gupta, was being artificially heated up by a bunch of fly-by-night operators, struck me as the kind of writing that one doesn't get to see in the dwindling number of pages devoted to art in our mainstream dailies and magazines. Chopra's sharp insights were like a life boat in a sea of fuzzy writing. I suspect, though, that he drew a lot of his insights from his good friends, Peter Nagy of Nature Morte art gallery, the launchpad of some of the finest contemporary artists, and adman-art collector-blogger Swapan Seth.
Three of them teamed up and launched BestCollegeArt.com in 2010 to give young artists, the median age being 30, an online marketplace to put up their work and sell directly to buyers for less than Rs 99,000 per work, without parting with fat commissions. Today, more than 1,000 artists have sold their work on this online marketplace.
In 2012, Chopra unveiled the Emerging Artist of the Year Award, where the top prize goes to a young talent selected from among 2,500-plus contenders spread over nationally. The winner gets a Rs 10 lakh award, the bulk of the money going into subsidising his or her three-month stint with the Glenfiddich Artist in Residence Programme. Chopra can with justification claim to be the country's leading incubator of artistic talent and also the publisher of a bright and hip online art and lifestyle magazine and TV channel, The Wall, which helps this young generation make sense of the world they are about to navigate and provides seasoned collectors the tip-offs they need to broadbase their repertoire.
Having raised art in the esteem of the new generation, a gallery with his distinctive stamp was clearly the way forward for Chopra. Interestingly, just a couple of months, while writing on ways to engage the elusive buyers, Kapil commented in his blog: "Galleries who build on an old order, family and the story of 'I have been around two decades', need to wake up and smell the coffee. The game has always been to sell to a couple of museums, attend some art fairs and sell some art to old collectors. That won’t sustain them or their artists. They need to work on their marketing, have a better online presence, engage with collectors and be active." Well, he has set the benchmarks for himself, but I see him raising the bar. Kapil always sees himself as his biggest competition.